Meet the company connecting wind farms to South Africa’s national grid – including its latest R3.5 billion development

 ·19 Aug 2022

In July, renewable energy group Enel Green Power (EGP) connected its 147 MW Soetwater Wind Farm to the national grid, having achieved commercial operation.

Located in a remote part of the Karoo Hoogland local municipality in the Northern Cape, the construction of the facility, its seventh in the country, involved a 200-million-euro (R3.5 billion) investment, having commenced in September 2019, meaning it faced obstacles to overcome the Covid pandemic.

Soetwater will be able to generate 585 GWh every year, potentially averting the emission of approximately 600,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually, said Enel Green Power.  The wind farm features Vestas V136-4.2 MW wind turbines, the largest on the African continent to date.

The wind farm is supported by a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with South African energy utility provider, Eskom.

EGP country manager Manuele Battisti, said: “The construction process was hampered at times by stop/start delays in response to COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. The hard lockdown in 2020 – in particular – resulted in difficulties relating to the transportation of people between provinces, as well as the transportation of experts and commissioning teams from other parts of the world.

“This highlights, all the more, what a significant achievement this is for both the project team, and the country,” he added. The company has 12 operational wind and solar projects in South Africa, with an overall installed capacity of 1.2 GW.

Additional wind farms include:

  • Oyster Bay wind farm (140 MW) is located near the coastal town of Oyster Bay in the Kouga municipality in Eastern Cape and has 41 wind turbines.
  • Nojoli wind farm (88 MW) is located in the Ester Cape and is the group’s first in South Africa, having entered into operation in 2016. The plant’s average annual electricity production meets the needs of approximately 86,000 households.
  • Nxuba wind farm (140 MW) is located near Bedford in the Eastern Cape. The plant’s average annual electricity production meets the needs of approximately 44,300 households.
  • Garob wind farm (140 MW) is located near the remote Northern Cape town of Copperton in the Siyathemba Local Municipality, and generates 573 GWh every year.
  • Karusa wind farm (147 MW) is located in a remote part of the Laingsburg local municipality and generates 500 GWh every year.

Newly appointed Battisti said the company would continue to play its part in keeping the lights on in South African homes and businesses.

“In the early stages of our journey in South Africa, we focused mainly on business development and expansion. When we were awarded two large projects in rounds three and four of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP), our focus was on the construction and implementation of the projects that had been awarded.

“Now that all projects are either complete or under construction, we are focusing on the effective production of electricity from existing power plants and pursuing new business opportunities,” he said in an interview in July.

“We are currently preparing for round six of the REIPPP for IPPs. At the same time, we are diversifying our client base following the introduction of new regulations, which allow IPPs to provide electricity to private customers. This will, in turn, reduce the dependency on Eskom and relieve some of the pressure on the public utility with regard to load shedding and blackouts,” he said.

Battisti said that a challenge facing the renewables sector is the country’s limited grid capacity. “The grid was designed to bring electricity from a large centre of production to a large centre of consumption, which in South Africa’s case are both in the north-east of the country, whereas the windiest and sunny areas of the country are in the north-west (Northern and Western Cape).

“Renewable plants are generally located in the windiest and most irradiated areas of the country, but sooner or later, the issue of grid constraints comes up because the plants are typically located in less populated areas, where energy consumption is less.”

To address this problem, Battisti said that new solutions need to be created. EGP may have to build plants closer to areas that have poorer resources but are closer to areas of greater consumption or closer to part of the grid that still has the capacity to host new generation.

“So, the challenge is to increase electricity production to meet the consumption requirements and provide electricity at the lowest possible cost.” Another challenge, he said, is determining what a reasonable tariff for electricity from renewables in South Africa may be – one that is not speculative and that is sustainable over time.

Looking ahead, Battisti said the group would broaden its scope from Eskom-driven projects awarded as part of the REIPPP to having more private clients in the portfolio. “The next step will be to bring other business units from the group into South Africa, for example, distribution and transmission, demand side, training, and even electric mobility.”

Read: Boom in small-scale solar installations in South Africa

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